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Green building piques interest at UBCM

When it comes to green building, the devil is in the details -- right down to who's using the loo.

"Women flush the toilet more, which impacts water use," explained Danyta Welch, policy program director for the Union of B.C. Municipalities.

This seemingly unimportant detail is just one of many in the LEED certification process that Welch and colleagues learned while working on a new green UBCM office in Victoria. LEED, or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, is a third-party rating system adopted by the Canada Green Building Council.

Welch shared her experience at green building clinic this morning at the Union of B.C. Municipalities convention.

The clinic was packed, demonstrating that green building priciples are top of mind for many municipalities. But a show of hands showed most don't even know what LEED is. Although high-profile LEED projects like the Vancouver convention centre and the Olympic athletes' village have raised the profile of sustainable building, certification is a long, detailed and onerous process.

Instead, many municipalities are developing city-wide green building policies that apply to all development, not just major projects.

Victoria councilor John Luton said the Dockside Green project -- a mixed-use development on Victoria's harbourfront -- built momentem on council that has led to the development of city-wide green building guidelines.

"Certainly, this policy we're developing owes it's life to Dockside Green," Luton told The Tyee. But he says there are still challenges, like parking, for example.

Underground parking adds to the cost of each unit in a building, yet a lack of spaces is seen as a liability for developers from a financing perspective, says Luton.

There are other challenges to green building, Welch pointed out. For example, any water than enters a building must be treated first, which complicates the addition of grey-water systems that can be used for flushing toilets or watering the garden.

And green principles don't stop when the building is completed, said Welch. At her building, colleagues had to get used to fruit flies around the compost and sorting recycling. "It's more about staff behaviour in the building than the building envelope itself," said Welch. "And keeping them informed is key."

Regardless of whether municipalities decide to pursue this certification, or just build with sustainable elements in mind, the main message was this: green buildings take more time, resources and co-operation, but the long-term savings from an operational perspective are worth it.

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